translation and comments ©1998, Joan Saberhagen

Kovalevskaia writes to the social activist, G.Folmar, concerning how she in particular and Russian's in general are viewed by other Europeans with regard to nihilism. (Letter #42 in ViP)


TO: G. Folmar
PLACE: Paris
DATE: Beginning of 1883

I for my part have spoken with him [Mittag-Leffler] quite candidly and I called his attention to the peculiarities of my personal circumstances, which could make my position unpleasant in a really bourgeois society. Here's an example. In the first place, I am Russian and for that I am very much suspected of nihilism (which in this case is not far from the reality). In the second place, I am not living with my husband, and in the eyes of every good and right thinking matron, no matter what the reason for separating, I appear to be a mysterious and suspicious person. And in the case of learned women, they judge more harshly than with others.

That I am not exaggerating in this regard, I can see perfectly clearly from the behavior of the local mathematicians with whom I have been acquainted of late. They take the trouble to visit me, they shower me with kindness and complements, but not one of them introduced me to their wife, and when I jokingly brought this to the attention of one of the women I know from this circle, she laughingly answered, "Madam Hermite (the wife of a well known local mathematician) would never accept into her drawing-room a young woman who lives alone, without her husband, in furnished rooms."

You can imagine, that similar nonsense here in Paris affects me very little. In Stockholm this could be completely different. I also told all this to Mittag-Leffler.


[no closing]



At this time Sof'ia Vasil'evna wrote to AO Kovalevskii [her brother-in-law]: "I work an awful lot now, absolutely the whole day. My work, evidently, is moving to a conclusion. In any case, by fall I will return to Russia and immediately try to get myself regular literary work at one of the thick journals, like the work Victor does for "Business Affairs". His articles earn from 150 to 200 rubles a month. If I succeed, I will be very happy and either will go to Stockholm or return to dear Paris. If my work does not succeed, then I will settle in Russia, although this later out come is about as pleasant as a noose around the neck." (letter of 28 February, from the family archive).

The reference in the paragraph above is to Victor Jaclard [SV Kovalevskaia's brother-in-law]. "Business Affairs" was a Petersburg magazine of radical tendency, where Jaclard placed political reviews from December 1879 through May 1884. He published the same kind of articles in the other radical magazine, "The Word" from December 1879 to February 1881. The collaboration of Jaclard with both journals came to an end when the journals were shut down by the government for 'harmful' tendencies. In his literary work, Jaclard was helped by his wife Anna Vasil'evna [SV Kovalevskaia's sister], who edited the articles for style; together with his wife Jaclard also compiled a reader for Russian students of French literature (two volumes, 1878).